When we travelled to Bordeaux this past April, our appointment at Château Ducru-Beaucaillou was personally for me the most anticipated appointment of the trip. The wine is probably my favorite in all of Bordeaux because with both wine and whisky I always gravitate to expressions of balance and restraint. I appreciate power, but only if it's in complete harmony with firm acidity and fruit. Ducru always seems to embody that philosophy in my opinion. It's always layered, complex, and slow to unwind with beautiful precision. It can also be very expensive, which is why I don't get to drink it as much as I would like to. While the other visitors tasted in the main salon downstairs, we were escorted up the stairs of the stunning château and into a private room with none other than the owner himself: Mr. Bruno Borie, one of the most charismatic and independent owners in the booze industry.
You may have heard of a little aperitif brand called Lillet. That ubiquitous vermouth-like elixir was struggling to remain in operation until Bruno invested in the company back in 1985. He managed that brand back into success for more than twenty years before selling to Pernod-Ricard in 2008. Today, after spending much of his early career away from the family business, he's doing for Ducru-Beaucaillou what he did for Lillet: expanding upon an early legacy to ultimately create his own. I couldn't wait to taste the 2015 grand vin. I was practically itching to get my hands on a pour. Then I tasted it, and I have to be candid here: the 2015 Ducru-Beaucaillou is so good, so perfectly soft and flavorful even at this young stage in its development, that it almost brought a tear to my eye. It is composed of 95% cabernet and 5% something otherworldly. The finish goes on forever—an everlasting essence of lush red fruits and asian spices. I could taste it for twenty minutes even after we had left.
Today, after months of anticipation, we were finally given pricing and allocations for the 2015 Ducru-Beaucaillou at $164.99. Considering our entire team placed the wine qualitatively with or above the $500+ first growths (the outstanding 2015 Mouton also launched today at $539.99), this is an absolute must-buy for serious Bordeaux collectors. But why exactly was the wine so delicious? I wanted to know a bit more, so after returning home from the en primeur event I phoned Mr. Borie to get a little intimate about specifics. Our conversation is below:
David: Your wine was an absolute hit with our Bordeaux group when we visited you this past April. I know a few of us—myself included—thought it was the top wine of the vintage.
Bruno: I love to hear that! I think you are one of the exceptions, however, in recognizing that. I just had lunch with—I cannot mention with whom—but it was with a few guys from the Mèdoc, ecologists and other château managers, and we agreed: this 2015 Ducru is wonderful, but somehow difficult to understand. Only a few people picked up on that. We really think it’s exceptional. We are extremely proud of it. Our colleagues here in Bordeaux were in agreement, but many journalists did not pick up on that.
David: Why do you think the wine tasted so good? What happened in 2015?
Bruno: Just hard work. We ended up with a very high proportion of cabernet sauvignon. The blossoming took place during the first week of June and we picked the grapes—the cabernet that makes up 95% of the blend—during the first week of October. That’s more than 120 days after flowering and that’s exceptional. The result is that the tannins are ripe, soft, and chewy. It’s very unique.
David: What I couldn’t believe was how good the wine tasted already—in its infancy. Is that the result of the vintage in your opinion?
Bruno: I think the 2015 is perfectly in line with the previous vintage. I think every year we get a little better. We’re gaining in precision because we better understand the vineyard and the winemaking here. We’re getting better because we have more experience. I took over in January of 2003 and every year since then I think we’ve made progress. 2015 is a wonderful vintage, generally speaking, because it was one of the most beautiful summers we’ve ever had in Bordeaux, but there wasn’t excessive heat. The vines didn’t suffer because the nights were reasonably cool. We had more quality hours of blue sky and sunshine than ever, but we never had what we call la canicule in France: a heatwave. There were sufficient periods of rain as well to refresh the atmosphere, but never too much. Everything was moderate, there was no excess.
David: So the vineyard conditions were mild and optimal, you’re saying, which allowed for a long hang time on the vine?
Bruno: Yes, we achieved perfect maturation of the tannins and at the same time we maintained the freshness and fruitiness of the wine with no excess of alcohol. That triangle is—I think—what makes Bordeaux exceptional.
David: If that’s what makes Bordeaux exceptional, what is it in your opinion that makes Ducru specifically exceptional?
Bruno: I think all of my neighbors in St. Julien made beautiful wine this year. It’s not just Ducru. St. Julien is a wonderful commune on the whole. There’s this idea that it’s a homogenous one, that all the wines are similar, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think we each make a really different style according to each individual ecosystem. Now on the other hand, there is a common ambition to make great wines. If there’s a homogeneity in St. Julien it’s a mutual desire to make the best wine possible. In other communes it can be different; you have some guys that are more concerned about that task than others. In St. Julien, everyone is concerned about quality.
David: What separates Ducru stylistically, do you think?
Bruno: At Ducru we have three different ecosystems: one around the estuary and the château from which we make the Ducru-Beaucaillou. Another on the other side of the road from which we make the Croix de Beaucaillou. Then we have the third one on the western part of the appellation from which we make the Lalande-Borie. All of those sites together are part of St. Julien. We don’t have any obligation to make three different wines. We could blend them all together to make one, but it’s our philosophy to make a wine for each ecosystem. I think that makes us different. The Ducru is always very elegant and balanced. The Croix de Beaucaillou has a little more richness and power. The Lalande-Borie is always very approachable; this year in particular it’s a little more concentrated than usual. Each has its own character. So you see that just in my own St. Julien acreage we already have three different ecosystems. There’s no doubt that within the eleven classified growths you have probably more than twenty different styles of wine.
David: I’d second that. There were huge differences between the St. Julien producers this year in terms of ripeness and flavor profiles.
Bruno: I think so, too.
David: What’s changed at Beaucalliou since you took over? Do you do anything differently than your father before you?
Bruno: As for what is the same, he tried to do his best and I try to do my best as well. What’s wonderful about Bordeaux is that we try to improve every year. I’m extremely proud of our long-standing history and our traditions. However, the reality is that the world is changing and we have the privilege of having better technology. You know this well living so close to Silicon Valley. We have new technology that helps us to do things better and with more precision. I think this is what has changed. We shouldn’t have any preconceived ideas about winemaking. We should be a part of today and tomorrow. We are not old and covered with dust in Bordeaux. We must integrate progress and science into our winemaking. Meeting with you young guys at K&L—you are fresh and open-minded. I think you can understand this. I don’t want to appear backwards and antiquated just because it looks romantic or beautiful. I want to have the best wine possible in the glass. With the help of some new technology we can achieve better. I’m trying to integrate innovation here. My dream is to have a new winery in a few years equipped with new artificial intelligence. I want my vats to be communicating with me!
David: Do you think that idea flies in the face of rustic romanticism?
Bruno: I know there’s a tendency to think yesterday was wonderful and today is terrible (laughs). But I’m sorry, I don’t agree with that. With the exception of a few clowns, humanity is pretty wonderful. I trust science. I trust universities. I trust human beings! We are good guys! If there is a God up there, he must look down and be pretty proud of what we are doing. In every field of humanity we are doing better than yesterday. Wine shouldn’t be an exception. I think our 2015 is better than previous vintages not only because of the weather conditions, but because we have better technology.